Startup Spotlight: Mouse Book Club

In October 2014, a 34,000 square foot coworking space and facility opened up to not only serve all students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Chicago, but also to be a dedicated resource for innovators and entrepreneurs in the surrounding South Side community without a formal affiliation to the University. Operated by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago, the Polsky Exchange has hosted thousands of workshops, multiple cohorts of startups, and a variety of high profile speakers since opening its doors five years ago. 

To celebrate the many innovators who have been supported over the past five years, the Polsky Center will host a special entrepreneurship showcase on Wednesday, October 16 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. One company that will be featured at the event is Mouse Books, a company that offers phone-sized literature options instead of staring at a screen. Mouse Books hold onto the magic of physical books while adapting to mobile lifestyles and contain thoughtfully curated and approachable pieces. After only two years, Mouse Book Club (MBC) has delivered over 40,000 books to over 60 countries and earned over $170,000. In their second season, MBC will be debuting the work of their first living published author. Not only does MBC instill a love of reading but also fosters reflection on the works through online discussions, weekly podcasts and local book clubs.

The Polsky Center had the chance to speak with founder David Dewane on his experience bringing Mouse Book Club to life through the Incubator.

Polsky: How did you first get involved in the Polsky Center?
David Dewane: I was referred to Polsky from a University of Chicago alum. I previously lived on the north side and unaware of the Polsky Center. It was amazing to see the scope of the offerings and it came just at the right time. I was in the process of going full-time on my startup. So I moved to Hyde Park one block away from the Exchange and applied to the incubator. It was 1000% worth it.

What challenges were you able to overcome as a result of Polsky resources?
David Dewane: Two challenges. Technical and social. Technically, the biggest gap in my company was marketing. I focussed narrow and deep on that single aspect of the business. The mentors that I worked with, specifically Melissa Harris, have been invaluable. Socially, I am one of four cofounders and we are each in different regions of the country. I personally thrive off the energy of the people around me. My cohort in the incubator have been a source of emotional support that has also been key to addressing the challenge of isolation from my team.

How has the Polsky Center impacted your success?
David Dewane: I define success as doing the best to which you are capable. Being part of a community has absolutely helped me to get the most out of myself primarily by acting as a stabilizing force. When you are running a company from your kitchen table you are more prone to self-doubt and uncertainty. When you are part of a community of people who are all working their fingers to the bone on tough problems it helps you drive on. You realize you are not crazy and not alone. Problems overlap and patterns emerge that you can apply to your own business.

Did other Polsky companies contribute to the progress of your company? In what ways?
David Dewane: Yes – in a wide variety of ways. On a basic level, a bunch of Polsky people (and Polsky itself) have been customers. The double bonus of that is there is accountability to these folks not only as friends but as customers. On the other end of the complexity spectrum, Polsky companies are always in a dynamic state of growth so discussing business strategy is always an option and very useful.

What would you say to early-stage companies considering becoming a Polsky Center member or applying to the Incubator?
David Dewane: It’s totally worth it. For the cost, which is minor, you get access to an incredible resources. Not just a great space, but a community of very special and intelligent people. Take full advantage of the University and the events.

What do the next five years look like for Mouse Book Club?
David Dewane: We will be one of the premier book clubs in the world. Our physical offerings right now are world-class and by that time our digital resources will match them. Our team will hopefully be around ten people that can serve a robust community of tens of thousands of readers of all ages all around the world.


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